Hooray for Hellebores!

Wine red Helleborus 'Anna's Red' paired beautifully with pure white Narcissus 'Thalia' a white daffodil. Together they create a beautiful combination.
Wine red Helleborus 'Anna's Red' paired beautifully with pure white Narcissus 'Thalia' a white daffodil. Together they create a beautiful combination.
Hooray for Hellebores!

Hooray for hellebores!

Hellebores – beautiful little plants with an inner toughness that belies their delicate exterior. We thought we’d delve into our top five favourite cultivars. Hellebores like partial shade in a humus rich soil which is not too damp. Although Hellebores have evergreen leaves, by spring foliage may have become tatty and frost damaged, so remove all scruffy, blackened leaves in early spring to allow flowers to fully emerge. Watch out for botrytis (grey mould), caused by excesive wet. If left unchecked, botrytis can quickly spread to the flower stems and deprive you of flowers (this year hasn’t been great for botrytis because it’s been so wet).

Our top five hellebores:

Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ 

Top of the list and my personal favourite: Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ really packs a punch at this time of year. It’s taller and more substantial than many hellebores, and works beautifully well when interplanted with Narcissus ‘Thalia’ and Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’. It features beautiful marbled foliage as well as deep wine coloured petals with cheery bright yellow stamens. This lovely plant is bred by horticulturalist Rodney Davey Plants near Axminster, Devon. It has the size and scale to have real visual impact at this time of year something that other hellebores can lack.

Image: Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ shown here with Narcissus ‘Thalia’ 
Wine red Helleborus 'Anna's Red' paired beautifully with pure white Narcissus 'Thalia' a white daffodil. Together they create a beautiful combination.


Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink’

Another fabulous Hellebore from breeder Rodney Davey Plants, and in many ways the sister plant to ‘Anna’s Red’. A gentler pink, this Hellebore works well with ‘Anna’s Red’, creating a multi-tonal effect, long-flowering and beautiful foliage. The success of the Rodney Davey Hellebores has led to a whole stable of cultivars including ‘Pippa’s Purple’, ‘Diana’s Dulcet, ‘Moondance’, ‘Mollys White’ and ‘Dorothy’s Dawn’ and many more. Hellebores can be quite expensive to buy, so choosing ones which are large enough to be seen and appreciated from indoors as well as outside, is always a priority at this time of year. Keep an eye out for Rodney Davey Hellebores and you won’t regret it.

Image: ‘Penny’s Pink’ a slightly softer pink shade but when planted with ‘Anna’s Red’ creates a beautiful multi-tonal effect.


Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Pirouette’ 

Fifty years ago, nurseryman Eric Smith managed to combine three Hellebores to produce an unusual and gorgeous plant. Today there are a wide range of ericsmithii cultivars but ‘Pirouette’ is a beautiful top perfoming Hellebore. Packed with flowers at this time of year, this cultivar features multi-tonal shades of pink which is part of its charm. This Hellebore is a more traditional size reaching 40cm with a spread of around 40cm. Over time it clumps up nicely and flowers its heart out to beautiful effect. It’s one to look out for at plant nurseries or  your can buy from online suppliers including Crocus.

Image: Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Pirouette’ is a flowering powerhouse!


Helleborus × hybridus ‘Harvington Double Chocolate’

At Easter it would be shame not to indulge, and ‘Double Chocolate’ is just the mouthwatering thing…with zero calories too! Hellebore flowers might usually be described as ‘homey’ – soft rounded petal shapes, pretty pastel colours and freckles. This Hellebores is a bit more of a catwalk model with classy ruffles, high cheekbones and taller than most hellebores. Like ‘Anna’s Red’ it’s perfectly paired with the silver foliage and airy baby blue flowers of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ or even Brunnera ‘Hapsden Cream’ and although Hellebores emerge before Brunnera, by the end of April they’re both in full leaf and bloom.

Image: Helleborus ‘Harvington Double Chocolate’ courtesy of Crocus
Helleborus Harvingdon Double Chocolate is a deep red coloured plant ideal for the spring garden. Double petals create a delicate ballerina skirt effect. A perfect plant for a shady garden.


Helleborus foetidus

The UK native ‘stinking Hellebore’ is named by the smell given off by its leaves when crushed. But don’t be put off, this very tough, very vibrant lime green Hellebore with a beautiful red trim to its petals is a great garden stalwart. It’s very capable of handling dry shade and year after year will emerge looking strong and fresh and relativley tall for a hellebore at 80cm. It’s statueque and along with tough but finely cut foliage makes a great addtion to a shady garden. 

Image: Helleborus foetus or stinking hellebore. Don’t let the name put you off this stunning plant.

Helleborus foetidus or stinking hellebore is a beautiful tough spring flowering plant, ideal for tough dry areas of garden. Vivid green small petals create a strong visual impression and finely cut foliage adds to its impact.

So that’s it. Our top five. But there are hundreds of Hellebores to choose from and spring is the perfect time to see them at NGS Open Gardens or at garden centres.

Author – Judy Shardlow

Expert Plantswoman and Garden Designer, Judy has over 25 years of experience in design and horticulture and holds and RHS Silver Gilt.

Contact us today for an informal chat about re-designing your garden.

The Garden Design Process – How does it work?

The Garden Design Process - How does it work?

Garden Design Process – how does it work?

Having your garden designed is an exciting process and there are a few steps in the process that take you from your garden as a blank canvas to a beautifully built and planted garden perfect for your needs. So what is included in the Garden Design Package? The process of designing a garden is best demonstrated by looking at an example of a completed garden and the drawings that are involved.

What stages are there in the Garden Design Process? 

New garden designs always begin with an initial meeting to take a look at the site or garden and discuss what you would like to achieve from the garden.

Everyone is different and our job is to find out exactly what your perfect garden looks like! We’re good at it and following our first meeting we will send you a ‘Design Brief’ to review and confirm that we’ve understood clearly what you want to achieve, with clear guidance about the garden design process ahead. 

Topographical Survey & Site Analysis

The first stage is a Topographical Survey and Site Analysis – this is usually completed by Heartwood Garden Design unless the client already has an accurate and up-to-date survey already. Completed by our professional surveyor, a topographical survey maps the whole site, including the house, dpc (damp proof course) levels, existing hedges, trees and planted areas, hardscape areas, levels, manhole covers, downpipes, drives, and more. It maps everything we need to know about what is on the site at present.

Alongside the survey is a Site Analysis. In many ways, a Site Analysis is a bit of a SWOT analysis, and part of the job of the Designer is to enhance and focus attention on existing strengths and mitigate weaknesses. We also look at site access, soil quality, drainage, compacted soil and existing plants and trees and the design includes recommendations from this analysis.

Image: our surveyor completes a topographical survey
Surveyor conducting a topographical survey

Concept Design

Concept Design is the first stage and brings together all the key information and creative vision. This stage is all about creating a vision of the garden in a way that’s inspiring, makes sense and deals with practical issues.

Design work for smaller gardens is usually developed as a 2D colour plan, a bit like an architect’s floor plan, with images to illustrate key features. Key points to establish at this stage are paving type and pattern, retaining walls, steps, water features, feature trees and plants and lighting effects. With larger gardens, we often develop 2D visuals into 3D to provide views from different perspectives and ‘walk through’ effects. Your Concept Design is the ‘vision’ for your garden, it takes time but ensuring that your garden has energy, flow and balance is key. We usually go through Concepts by Zoom, as it allows us to show your proposed new garden over the existing topographical survey and can help you to visualise proposed changes.

Image: Concept Design example

Planting Plans

With the Concept Design finalised the detailed drawings can be completed and the detail is critical to building and planting your garden beautifully. Planting Plans are critical for planting larger areas and our Planting Plans map out all of the plants for each area based on the aspect, garden style and maintenance. Each plan includes a schedule of plants covering how many plants are needed, which species and size. Our plans include a soil and planting specification which ensures that soil is prepared to our specification, and plants are carefully planted and mulched. We take pride in our plants and trees and only provide the best quality stock from some of UK’s best nurseries. We’re also proud to support the UK plant and tree nursery industry.

Image: Planting Plan example

Garden Design Technical Package

The Technical Package is a full set of drawings that provides detailed plans on how to build your garden. This includes a Setting Out Plan, which provides details of how to map the plan out onto the garden, and dimensions for all features. Setting Out Plans also include existing and proposed levels so that any level changes are clear. The Construction Plan identifies all of the built elements on the garden, the materials, areas, construction method, and supplier and also shows areas where steel edging will be used. Construction is supported with Construction Drawings that explain clearly how each part of the garden will be built. A Written Specification recaps all of the information within the Construction Plan, creating a list of elements to be built. It also includes instructions on how the site will be managed, including deliveries, site safety, tree protection, disposal, and recycling of removed materials. We like to be clear about how to build the garden and the standards that are expected throughout construction. We work with some highly professional landscapers and will provide recommendations for tendering.

In many ways the technical package is the most important part of the design. A very high level of details doesn’t just mean that our vision of your garden is created accurately, it ensures that the build costs are accurate.

Because we ask contractors to provide a cost ‘line by line’ from our specification, costs from different contractors can be compared accurately. A high level of detail also means that everything has been considered and planned ahead of time, which is critical to ensuring smooth and timely construction. Landscapers love a highly detailed design package because all of the information that they need to assess cost and timing is very clear. When complete all copies of the Plans are made available to our clients and landscape contractors picked for tendering. We use Dropbox to share copies of drawings but we also provide a PDF portfolio of all drawings which can be downloaded and printed. At the end of the Design Package stage we also provide Tendering Services and Project Monitoring through the construction of your garden. You can find out more about these services on our website.

Image: Setting Out Plan & Construction Drawings

Author – Judy Shardlow

Expert Plantswoman and Garden Designer, Judy has over 25 years of experience in design and horticulture and holds and RHS Silver Gilt.

Contact us today for an informal chat about re-designing your garden.

Low Maintenance Water Features – Our Top Five Favourites

Natural Swimming Pond in Hitchin Hertfordshire a beautiful swimming pool with a waterfall and colourful natural planting
Our top five water features



Low maintenance water features – our top five favorites

Most gardens benefit from having a water feature, they bring sound movement and wildlife into your garden and once you’ve added one to your garden you’ll find that you’re drawn to it, particularly on warm summer days.

We prefer simple to install, self-contained water features, preferably ones that allow bees and birds to access water during the hot summer months. We know that people have busy lives and that the words ‘water feature’ can strike fear into people’s hearts because they worry that ‘water feature’ means a lot of cost and maintenance. But it doesn’t need to be like that, there are a some high-quality suppliers who we recommend because we love their products. They’re simple to install, look beautiful and provide joy and movement in gardens large and small.

One of the suppliers that we recommend is Foras. Based in Norfolk they’re a family business that have expanded and developed their water feature range over the past few years. They’ve created some stunning products that we love to put into our gardens. 

So let’s get started with our top five great water features:

Layer slate water features: 

Who doesn’t love the colour and texture of slate? It’s beautiful, natural, quarried in Britain and provides a beautiful tough textured surface for water spill over beautifully. 

There are two products that we love in this category; the Foras 75cm Layered Slate Water Feature where layers of slate form a simple bowl with circulating water which sits on a bed of pebbles. Water gently bubbles within the bowl and over the sides and is re-circulated with a submersible pump within a concealed reservoir. It’s perfect for dabbling your fingers on a hot day, or for bees, butterflies and birds to come for a sip or a little bathe. It comes with a choice of pebble colours and is a complete package which includes reservoir, lighting, pump, and pebbles. In the same style is the Foras Belmont Layered Slate Water Feature. It’s the same idea but a beautiful layered slate sphere which comes in sizes from 40-75cm. Water risesup through the centre and bubbled and cascades down the sides. It’s beautiful, atmospheric and the perfect addition to a relaxing garden.

Image Credit Foras
Foras Water Feature

Lovely lily bowls: 

Urbis have had a reputation for some time of creating high quality and beautifully finished planters and water bowls. Our favourite is the Lily Bowl which comes in four sizes from 99-180cm diameter and with a lovely range of earthy colours in textured finishes which blend in beautifully with planting schemes. Lily bowls as the name suggests are designed either as a still water feature with aquatic plants such as a tiny perfect pygmy water lily which remains within an aquatic pot and is held in place with a layer of smooth pebbles. They’re also great for creating a bubbling pool of water with a small pump concealed beneath a small grid and beneath a layer of pebbles. Unlike the Foras water features the individual elements the bowl, pump, lighting and pebbles are sourced separately but the end result is equally stunning.

Image Credit: Heartwood Garden Design
Urbis Lily bowl installed by Heartwood Garden Design in a harpenden garden. A beautiful shallow coloured water feature on a base of pebbles and filled with a layer of pebbles and the gentle movement of water.

Water blades: 

Water blades have been around for a while and it’s a simple principle: a steel blade that drops a sheet of water down into a small reservoir with a pump to re-circulate. The reservoir can be large or small or small and can include pebbles and aquatic planting. It can also include lighting in the form of a led strip set beneath the blade or a submersible light which uplights the falling water. Like the other water features discussed, it creates a beautiful sound, attracts birds and insects and with a small concealed reservoir is safe for children.

Image credit: Heartwood Garden Design
Garden water blade feature which creates a sheet of water tumbling into a small pool. A beautiful garden focal point surrounded by planting and next to a porcelain paved path.

Go Italianate: 

If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional a Haddonstone Romanesque Fountain is a good option. with an 81.5cm diameter it’s a good size and is made of composite limestone which looks and feels like natural stone. It’s fully equipped with pump and electrical supply for easy installation by a professional providing the perfect feature for the Mediterranean garden.

Image Credit Haddonstone

Keep it Simple: 

Beautiful simplicity is often at the heart of the gardens that we design. It doesn’t get more gracefully simple than the Sea Salt Water Feature, another winner from British supplier Foras, and one that creates serenity in any garden. It features a stunning honed, polished natural 90cm slate plate that allows water to spill beautifully over the edge into a bed of pebbles. Set within colourful, airy naturalistic planting it’s a sensory delight for your garden and we love adding one of these features to our planting design schemes.

Sea Salt Water Feature


We think you get the message here, water features in gardens don’t need to be onerous if you keep them simple. Yes, you usually need a pump and a electricity supply and most should be installed by a professional landscaper.

But what about maintenance? This will depend on location and also the surface area of your water feature. A bigger surface area will mean more regular cleaning as more debris will accumulate. Low to the ground water features or water features near any trees, will also need more regular cleaning. During the summer months most water features benefit from regular cleaning once a month. You can also use a wildlife-safe water feature cleaner like Gardening Naturally Water Feature Cleaner which can be used to keep water features clean and it’s safe for children and wildlife.

Thank you for reading, if you would like to re-design your garden and include a beatiful water feature, please do contact us on info@heartwoodgardendesign.co.uk

Top 10 spring bulbs to plant right now

Top 10 spring bulbs to plant right now

September has arrived and we’re well into the planting season for spring bulbs. In Hertfordshire we can expect rain levels to increase, which will loosen up the soil for planting and for the weather and soil to stay relatively warm until the end of October. So plenty of time to get some beautiful spring bulbs in.

Why are bulbs important?

Most spring bulbs flower from the end of January right through to May. They fill a gap in the garden and provide a much needed shot of colour at a time of year which can be a bit dull, before the warmer spring weather arrives. There’s a huge range of colour diversity so if vivid reds, oranges and purples are your thing there’s lots of choice. Equally if you prefer gentler pastel shades and a generally more delicate look, there’s plenty of choice.

Different bulbs flower at different times.

Different flowering times mean that you can create a sequence of colour in your garden, so there’s always something to look forward too. This is probably the most important aspect of bulbs, and it’s useful to know what bulbs flower when as well as the best colours and combinations that you can buy. Our top ten are our preferred bulbs and listed by time of year, it’s a good place to start if you have no bulbs in your garden right now, but it’s worth bearing in mind that there are a huge range of bulbs available from suppliers like Peter Nyssen and Bloms Bulbs.

What bulbs need and how to plant

All bulbs need great drainage to thrive. In Hertfordshire, many gardens have a clay based soil which can be more difficult for bulbs in wetter conditions. If you can, plant each bulb with a thin layer of horticultural grit to improve drainage. Bulbs need to be planted to 3 x the depth of the bulb, the larger the bulb the deeper they need to be planted. Little Anemone blanda bulbs (corms) benefit from pre-soaking before planting.

  1. Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite – February) – low beautiful and buttercup yellow. These woodland bulbs thrive in a damp, shady location where they can planted on masse.
2. Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ (February) – miniature vivid blue irises, to brighten up the darkest February day. Because they’re quite tiny they’re very good in a large dish shaped plant pot covered with a layer of gravel so they can be enjoyed from the house in a sunny spot.
  1. Narcissus ‘Tete a tete’ (February) – delicate miniature daffodil ‘Tete-a-tete’ is a must for any garden. Bright yellow miniaturised petals flower surprisingly early and are perfect as a segueway into the taller pure white daffodil Narcissus ‘Thalia’ that flowers a little bit later.
  1. Narcissus ‘Thalia’ (March) – beautiful, elegant and pure white, this is a must have bulb for the spring border. Planted amongst beautiful self-seeding annual Myosotis sylvatica (Forget me not) or perennial Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ you’ll have a beautiful mix of sky blue and pure white flowers for weeks.
  1. Anemone blanda ‘Charmer’ (March-April) – beautiful low front of border bulbs that in mid spring to create a starry understory of colour in the garden.
  1. Tulipa ‘Ballerina’ (April) – this beautiful ‘Lily flowered’ tulips will flower for around a month offering excellent colour value at this time of year. Beautiful paired with Tulipa ‘Burgundy’ and or Tulipa ‘Merlot’
  1. Tulipa ‘Slawa’ – (April) this is new one to me, but what beauty! If you like high impact drama in your garden this one is for you. Beautiful paired with Tulipa ‘Van Eijk’ and Tulipa ‘Continental’.
  1. Allium hollanicum ‘Purple Sensation’ (May) – and oldie but a goody. Beautifully tall to around 90cm with large tennis ball sized heads that are a Chelsea Flower Show icon.


  1. Tulipa ‘Burgundy’ – (May) Rich purple, another ‘Lily flowered’ tulip that lasts well and looks incredibly elegant in any garden.

10. Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ (May) – another classic that no garden should be without. Like Narcissus ‘Thalia’ this one also looks good within a sea of baby blue Myosotosis (Forget me not)

How many bulbs should I buy and how can I combine them?

Getting into bulbs can seem complicated. But great quality suppliers like Sarah Raven and Peter Nyssen have done all the hard work for you and buying bulb collections is a great short cut to buying bulbs when you’re not an expert. Tulip collections and spring bulbs collections by colour give you a chance to learn what you like and give you a head start on the planting season. You can also make life easier by buying a bulb augur to help dig holes and a kneeler, or get someone else to do the planting for you!

It can be difficult to know exactly how many bulbs, but think in terms of hundreds rather than a tens of bulbs. Planting them is hard work, but it’s a valuable investment in life enhancing colour that will reward you in just a few months time.